Library Sector Successfully Impacts Changes to Ontario’s Public Libraries Act
The Ontario Government recently proposed two changes to Ontario’s Public Libraries Act affecting local public library boards as part of Bill 132, Better for People, Smarter for Business Act, 2019. This Bill is the latest in the provincial government’s ongoing red tape burden reduction efforts.
FOPL strongly supports of the first of these changes, which, if passed, will give permanent residents the same opportunity as Canadian citizens to serve as Public Library Board members. Providing Public Library Boards with a larger and more diverse pool of prospective board members will help them welcome new voices, increase diversity & inclusion in community leadership, and better respond to the evolving needs of the people they serve.
The proposed changes also included reducing the minimum number of meetings a public library board is required to hold annually to 4, down from the currently legislated minimum of 10. FOPL recognized the widespread concern of local public library boards regarding the extent of the proposed reduction of mandatory meetings. Through immediate and active engagement with the Ontario Government, as well as a deputation before the Standing Committee on General Government in Peterborough, we successfully advocated for an amendment to the proposed legislation. It was amended by the Standing Committee with a new proposed mandatory minimum of 7 library board meetings per year. We believe this new minimum, reflecting the input of the library sector, strikes the right balance between the provincial government’s intent to provide boards with greater flexibility, and what is required to ensure that robust governance is maintained across all of Ontario’s public library boards. The bill has now proceeded to its Third Reading and final vote and passed. It awaits Royal Assent.
We appreciate the leadership of the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries in recognizing the sector’s concerns, and bringing forward this much-needed amendment to the attention of the Standing Committee. This outcome was facilitated by FOPL’s ongoing commitment to build and maintain long-term relationships with the Ontario Government as a credible, constructive, and non-partisan leader and voice for Ontario’s library sector.
FOPL, alongside our partners at OLA, were able to rapidly respond to the Ontario Government with credible, practical insight on the significant impacts that an annual mandatory minimum of 4 meetings would create for local public library boards. Some of the issues raised included the potential for substantial pressures for our predominantly volunteer library boards: overwhelming agendas, the inability to make time-sensitive decisions, and difficulties in meetings to reach quorum.
Your input was vital. FOPL & OLA surveyed library board members across Ontario about the proposed change. Over 350 members responded, representing the full spectrum of Ontario’s public library boards. The response was clear. Respondents almost universally stressed their concern with the originally proposed mandatory minimum, with some expressing concern with any reduction. Many respondents indicated that a reduction in the mandatory minimum was doable, with a minimum of 7 or 8 meetings being by far the most preferred option.
We are encouraged that many public library boards remain committed to robust governance. Many have shared with us their intention to continue holding meetings more frequently, and to exercise the ability to hold special and emergency meetings as required.
We will continue to keep you updated on our ongoing advocacy with the provincial government on behalf of Ontario’s libraries.
Stephen Abram, MLS
Executive Director, FOPL